Here we are nearly ten days removed from the Meltdown at Metlife, and only finally it feels like things can start to be viewed from a better vantage point. It's also the time of year where we all decide in our minds what we want changed, who we want changed, and where we want to get better. For the first few days after Ugly Sunday, my outlook was incredibly dim. It was such a colossal beat-down in so many aspects, it felt for a while like there's nothing we could really do to pick up the pieces. So many areas and so many facets of Bronco Football that day were just so piss poor. Sorting through it felt like bellying up to one of those giant hamburgers where it's so big that if you eat it all there's no charge. I mean, where do you start?
As they say, time heals all wounds. Ya, right. I'd like to punch that dude in the mouth to give him a scar to match ours. His will heal, I'm still not sure ours ever will.
The question I've finally started asking myself over the last few days is whether the storm against Seattle was a result of the Butterfly Effect, or whether it was the work of something more sinister. The botched-snap-heard-‘round-the-world: Did it form a snowball that quickly grew so large that it was truly impossible to stop and even slow down? Or was the game more a product of some hidden flaws being uncovered? If it's the former, then we must merely lick our wounds and march into the offseason targeting those positions in which we've always known we needed. If it's the latter, well then, it's time to Omaha into an audible.
With the crowd against them, Lady Luck spitting on the them, and with an offense that couldn't sustain a drive or even hang onto the ball, the defense stood tall and single-handedly kept the Broncos in the game for the first half. Terrific run-stopping, limited passing, big holds in the red area... but no turnovers. Kept waiting for that same momentum swing that so often in 2013 served as the kindling to light a raging fire from within the offense. Sadly, it never came.
Now I know there are some truly mixed feelings about Von Miller all across Broncos Country, but in my mind he was the one Bronco who could have changed the momentum, and perhaps even the outcome of what would then become a disaster. He was sorely missed.
Most Bronco fans wanted a new middle linebacker to begin with, and also a strong safety - albeit to a lesser degree. So in that sense, the February flub will merely serve to underline those two needs that we already knew we had. I've tried to be harder on the defense over the last week. I've tried to think outside the box and to look at it with fresh eyes, but it's just not their fault. As it pertains to the defensive side of the ball, all I'm taking away from this ass whopping is that when we upgrade those two positions this offseason, we better damn well do it with play-makers. And yes, there's a difference. Smart, steady, assignment-sure football is only half the battle... What I take away from that unforgettable day of disaster is that we need to add the ability to hit hard, swipe the ball, fight for the ball, play mean, get nasty and just generally force some G-Damn mistakes! The two positions we need just so happen to be the ones most associated with being the tone-setters. Dear John: Go get me a MF play-maker at MLB, and a Play-Maker at Strong Safety. Please and thank you.
Both tackles got beat up and absolutely abused in the passing game, and the blocking in the run-game was missing in action as well. What sort of adjective can I use here other than cheap four-letter words and descriptors that would make a sailor blush? These are my own people, so I guess that's not really a road I want to walk down. Short and sweet instead, to the whole entirety of the offensive line: Shame on you, just shame on you!
But was it just one bad game, one bad performance? Was it an anomaly, or was it an existing problem that had been hidden away all season? How we each answer that question is extremely important, as it will have a domino effect of its very own. If you feel like it was an anomaly - a comedy of errors that isn't likely to repeat - then you likely feel that there's nothing truly broken and nothing to truly fix. Personally, I don't feel like that anymore - and that represents a pretty stark change in any earlier outlook I've had.
Zane Beadles at LG had a down year by nearly all accounts. Fans still liked him, as I believe he was the top voted guard for the Pro Bowl. And yet, somehow he didn't even get in once the other votes were cast. He's probably not a huge liability, but rather is a serviceable starter. Fans probably overrate him, the media probably underrates him. Whatever. I want him replaced, and this is a complete change in course for me. I want somebody better, someone bigger and meaner. "Good enough" isn't good enough anymore, because I have no other goal than to win the Super Bowl - and that's the playground where nobody but the meanest defenders like to hang out. To win there, we must first get better up front at the OL. That's the lesson I learned in the MetLife Meltdown. This is our priority. This is where we fight for the wheels of change. In all fairness to Beadles, though, he's just a pawn in all this mess - a conduit to a bigger solution.
There's been talk about moving Orlando Franklin to guard pretty much every year. Just like Champ Bailey to safety, it's an annual tradition. And just like with Champ Baliey moving to safety, it's never been a move I've supported. We didn't have a better option at RT last year, and Champ Bailey still had the goods last year, so making those moves never made any sense to me.
Expert opinions vary somewhat widely about Orlando's performance at RT. He graded out as one of the top RT's in all of football in 2012, according to ProFootballFocus. And this year he's not been a problem either. Well, that is, until he was a problem (you know when). It's been pretty well documented that Peyton's quick release helps our offensive linemen out an awful lot, but what happens when the opposition is capable of getting quick pressure from all over the line? What happens when a quick release isn't quick enough? Well, you saw the results just like I did.
Franklin has trouble when he's matched up against speed rushers and has even had problems against teams such as Jacksonville. And then there was of course Seattle, where he just got absolutely owned. I don't care what anybody tells you, small sample sizes are relevant when the results are consistent - and he's had a handful of games where that's been the case. The Broncos haven't played many great defenses over the last couple years, and that's something we all need to really stop and think about. If we do indeed scratch and claw our way back to the lovely land of February again next year, then that's all but certain to be what will be waiting for him again, and for the entire offensive line as well: Speed rushers and a mean-ass defense. Is there any other goal that I'm missing? Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is insane. It's time to make a change. For the love of February and everything sacred, this is where we fight. This is where we spin the wheels of change.
The Big Fix.
I propose we throw out the idea of simply replacing Beadles. And throw out the idea of moving Clark to RT. This is where we fight. I'm now advocating something I thought was incredibly stupid two weeks ago. I want to draft a first-round Offensive Tackle. By shifting Orlando over to his more natural position of left guard (where he has a ton of experience, and where he was originally projected to play at in the pros by most), it would serve to upgrade the two weakest positions on the offensive line in one single swoop of the draft stick. And with Clady back next year, all the sudden this is an offensive line that can get it done when it matters. Look, a lot of you guys likely had a guard within the first three-rounds of your mock draft anyway. I'm just asking you to upgrade two positions instead of one, while knowing that it will cost a higher pick.
For this to work, the newbie needs to be able to step in and upgrade the RT position immediately, and then ideally he also needs to be good enough to shift over to LT in year-two. This is in case "Clady Day" comes in 2015 - something I won't go into because I'm already a long-winded MF as it is. It's a curse. Point is, if you do it right, you kill about three birds with one stone. If you do it wrong, he'll have to take a redshirt year at guard in Zane Beadles' old position and we'll have to cross our fingers that Franklin doesn't get eaten up again.
The Football Gods have spoken, and they said our offensive line can't hold up to the elite defensive lines in the NFC - teams such as Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina. And that, my friends, is all that really matters. If we don't learn from the past, we're doomed to repeat it. We can ignore it and go out and be regular season heroes again, but I'm telling you we're destined to fail when it matters most if we don't stop fooling ourselves into thinking there's nothing broken on offense. It is broken. That line is a paper tiger, and one replacement at guard isn't enough to change that.
The Five Major Moves.
Free Agent SS Donte Witner ($4M). Hard hitter. Play-Maker.
Free Agent MLB Karlos Danby ($3.5M). 3-down MIKE, does it all. Play-Maker.
31. OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee - 6'6, 330 pounds.
63. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood - 6'1, 195 pounds. Play-maker.
95. DE Marcus Smith, Louisville - 6'4, 258 pounds. Play-Maker.